STEMinist Profile: Karen Kuria, Director of Mobile Applications Development

Karen Kuria

Karen Kuria

Director, Mobile Applications Development
Kamilifu Solutions Ltd



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
Growing up I was always fascinated by technology and I was a curious child. I needed to know how stuff worked and what made it work. A career in technology came up naturally for me. After my undergraduate degree, I got a scholarship to study a masters degree in the same field.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
There is a project I am currently working on together with a team from two different continents. We are collaborating online and sharing code to build an e-reader application that will allow authors to post and sell their work online and users will also be able to download books at a fee using a local mobile payment solution. I am one of the two project managers and it is an exciting thing for me, virtual project management and working with people in a different continent.

Role models/heroes:
I look up to several women in Kenya who despite all odds have made it in the tech field and have been involved in ICT4D projects and a few who work for Google Kenya.

Why do you love working in STEM?
Technology is always evolving and there are new things to learn everyday making it interesting.

Advice for future STEMinists?
You can achieve anything you put your mind to. Believe in yourself and your abilities. Love what you do and things will fall in place naturally.

Favorite website or app:
My favorite app is PesaSmart, an Android app I developed to help me track my expenses.

Twitter: @kareynzs
Website: divas4Tech.org

STEMinist Profile: Jaime Hutchison, Ph.D. Student in Physics

Jaime Hutchison

Jaime Hutchison

Ph.D. Student in Physics
The University of Massachusetts Amherst



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I always enjoyed math and science in middle and high school, and I have an uncle who is a physicist. Both my parents and I assumed I would continue on with math and science after high school, however, I rebelled a bit when it came time to make a decision about college and ended up at art school. After art school I entered the work force as a bank teller. In my early twenties I began really missing math and science. I was working hard, but was not being challenged mentally. I borrowed some of my uncle’s physics textbooks and began going through them on my own after work. Eventually I decided to go back to school and ended up getting my bachelors degree in physics when I was 29.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Of course I think the coolest project I’ve worked on is the one I’m working on now! I’m interested in membrane proteins that are able to both sense particular membrane curvature and induce changes in membrane curvature. What I love about this project is that it has required a very interdisciplinary approach. I’m a physicist at heart, but while working with these proteins I’ve learned a bunch of chemistry, biochemistry, and molecular biology.

Role models/heroes:
I’m always inspired by scientists (or anyone, really) who doesn’t have blinders on. By that I mean scientists who are sincerely interested in things that are going on outside their particular subfield.

Why do you love working in STEM?
Well, I don’t ALWAYS love it. When things are going well—you’re getting data, and you have some idea of what the data is saying, it’s supremely exciting and makes it all worthwhile. The other side of the coin is the struggle that comes when things aren’t working, or when things are working but you don’t understand what the data is telling you. For me the most difficult part of doing research is overcoming the fear that you have no idea what is going on and that everyone else on the planet must have a better understanding of it than you do. I guess, in the end, I just love the challenge. It’s a challenge to get everything working, it’s a challenge to understand your results in as detailed and precise a way as you can, and it’s a challenge to then communicate those results to the scientific community.

Advice for future STEMinists?
As with any career I would suggest trying to make sure that you’re doing something you love to do (at least most of the time). For me a key part of figuring this out was becoming involved in research as an undergraduate. I was able to get a pretty accurate glimpse into what graduate school and life in the lab would be like.

Favorite website or app:
For STEM-related issues: FemaleScienceProfessor 
For a good laugh: Damn You Auto Correct

STEMinist Profile: Dawn Fitt, STEM Education Director, BLOODHOUND SSC Project

Dawn Fitt

Dawn Fitt

STEM Education Director
BLOODHOUND SSC Project (SSC = Supersonic Car)



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My dad, he was an electronics engineer in the British Army.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I suppose that the coolest project I have been involved with is the one I am presently working on, trying to enthuse and inspire more young people to take up careers in STEM based occupations using BLOODHOUND SSC as a vehicle to raise awareness. It’s a big departure from my time in industry designing engine test beds and later project managing the design, build, installation and commissioning of engine test beds.

Role models/heroes:
My dad was a great role model whilst I was growing up. Others have included Mrs. Wood, my high school maths teacher and in relation to women in engineering: Amy Johnson and Caroline Haslett – both members and past Presidents of the Women’s Engineering Society. Today, I draw inspiration and guidance from my friends and acquaintances in The Women’s Engineering Society.

Why do you love working in STEM?
From the outset, I have always gone home with a sense of accomplishment. When working in industry it was knowing that the item I had designed, worked and satisfied customer wants & needs and today it’s more about knowing that I can make a difference and hopefully inspire one person to follow in my footsteps.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Enjoy what you do and make the most of every opportunity that comes your way.

Favorite website or app:
Of late it’s Finger Physics.

Twitter: @fittdr, @BLOODHOUND_SSC, @WES1919
Website: www.bloodhoundssc.com, www.wes.org.uk

STEMinist Profile: Sonia Watson, Ph.D. Student in Physiology

Sonia Watson

Sonia Watson

Ph.D. Student in physiology/pharmacology/neuroscience
University of Aberdeen, Scotland, UK

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
As far back as I can remember I’ve always been curious about the world around me and always trying to figure out how things work. I remember going to the science centre here in Aberdeen as a small child and being totally fascinated. One of my favourite books to sit down with was this heavy, hard bound medical encyclopedia that had amazing colour pictures of the various systems of the body (nerves, blood vessels, etc.).

I hadn’t even really considered that the things that really interested me were all science related until it was pointed out to me by a high school teacher when I was choosing which subjects to study at standard grade level (GCSE/3rd year of high school). I chose to study all three sciences (biology, chemistry and physics) from that level on and I was hooked. Since then I’ve known that whatever it is I do, it’s science that gets me up in the morning.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project I have worked on is my current Ph.D. research.

Most people are unaware that they have a 6th sense, which without you couldn’t drive, type or walk without looking at your feet. It’s called proprioception and it sends information from your limbs back to your brain giving you a sense of where those limbs are in relation to the rest of your body. My work focuses on the puzzling presence of a particular signaling system within sensory nerves that, at the cellular level, modulates this sense.

This project excites me because it is all about figuring out how the body works. Additionally it has medical consequences as it is now thought that the regulation of blood pressure also uses this signaling system.

Role models/heroes:
There are loads of amazing female academics at my university who I look up to and I think this is part of the reason I don’t really consider my gender as being a barrier to what I want to do. My heroes would have to include my parents who always encouraged me to do whatever it was that excited me (whether that was learning to play the violin only to give it up again once I got bored or buying me an electronics set so I could build my own lamp). They allowed me to figure out for myself what I enjoyed and never said no just because it wasn’t a “girly” thing to do.

During my time as a Ph.D. student I have met some great fellow students who have inspired me to get more involved in communicating how amazing science is to the public.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love working in the lab, essentially figuring out puzzles all day, but working in STEM has given me the opportunity to get involved in other fun projects. I’ve done a little “science busking” – demonstrating small experiments to children and adults of all ages and co-run Aberdeen’s Skeptics in the Pub.

People tend to think of scientists as locked away in a dark room all day but it can actually be a very social career. I love attending conferences where you get the chance to meet amazing people from all over the world and discuss your work (as well as life, the universe and everything!).

Advice for future STEMinists?
If STEM is what excites you, do it. STEM subjects can give you a great start wherever life may take you—it gives you a way of thinking that can be applied in all walks of life. Speak to people at different levels in your subject area and find out what it’s all about. Twitter can be a great way of doing this informally.

Favorite website or app:
Difficult question! There are so many! I use Noteshelf to collate notes and make to-do lists for my research and different non-uni projects I’m involved in. I am on Twitter far too much (I use TweetCaster on my iPad). FaceTime is great for talking to my Mum.

Twitter: @nonisa

STEMinist Profile: Michelle Hsia, Materials & Process Engineer

Michelle Hsia

Michelle T. Hsia

Materials & Process Engineer
Contract to Weber Aircraft, LLC



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
Honestly, I wasn’t really sure what to do… My brother’s friends kind of pushed me into it since I was good at math and I loved science! I couldn’t figure out what to do that would actually make any money; I didn’t like history or political science or teaching. So, I decided to go into engineering. Then, it was basically a decision between Aerospace or Mechanical. Ultimately, I chose Mechanical.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
In undergrad, it was the Formula SAE race car. We won the 2 years I was on the team. The 2nd year, I co-captained. It was an amazing experience; something that shaped my career. In industry, I performed a metallurgical root cause failure analysis on a test aircraft fuselage. It blew up during a test. After about a month and a half looking at all of the fracture surfaces, testing material chemistry, tensile testing material, etc., where everything looked normal, it all boiled down to the fact that there was a piece that was not replaced during routine maintenance. Bolt pattern showed me where the origin was. The part was cycled so much, it finally failed. The video of the fuselage blowing up was pretty cool…

Role models/heroes:
I don’t know if I have any heroes. I had some pretty good mentors, though. Dr. Stephen Kugle was the first professor that challenged me more than what was taught in class. Dr. Bob Woods was a great faculty advisor for Formula SAE. He taught me how to look at the overall/bigger picture. Carroll Smith was a great mentor. I spoke to him a lot about engineering, jobs, etc. It was a sad day in motorsports when he passed away.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I like the problem solving aspect of things. I’m not a design engineer, but I have to know about it to do my job. I’m not a manufacturing engineer, but I need to know that too. I have to know a little or a lot about certain topics to be effective and to help people do their jobs better. Right now, I’m learning about plastics and plastic injection molding. It’s not my area of expertise, but it’s very interesting in a failure analysis aspect. I like that what I do requires me to learn things everyday.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Join the design projects while you’re in school, even if you don’t get course credit! It’s the best way to learn and apply what they teach you in class. Sometimes what they teach you is confusing unless you actually see it. I found out from classes – and a particular professor who taught dynamics – that I wanted to do failure analysis. But I found out from the Formula SAE team that I liked materials. I also found out from my first job that I didn’t want to be a design engineer. Find something that you love and stick with it. Don’t be afraid to try things just because you’re a girl; use it to your advantage.

Favorite website or app:
I think the best app, if you love music, is Shazam or Soundhound. Mostly because when I hear something I like, I can find out what it is and who sings it right away. Since I’m still in school (getting my MBA), I love Dropbox. We all use it; and having the app allows me to access what I need to.

Twitter: @tswei_chen

STEMinist Profile: Carrie Eaton, Assistant Professor of Mathematics

Carrie Eaton

Carrie Eaton

Assistant Professor of Mathematics
Unity College



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
Always loved science and math, never considered anything else!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Recently I have been involved with a working group interested in how human social actions interact with the evolution of a community (human or ecological). There are so many really interesting questions and implications. I look forward to applying some mathematical modeling to further our intuition and understanding.

Role Models/Heroes:
Not really, I take my inspiration from lots of different people for the different facets of my life and work.

Why do you love working in STEM?
Lots of opportunities! Such wonderful intellectual stimulation, such an interesting community to work in in terms of the diverse work happening in all fields.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Talk to other men, women, anyone! One of the biggest factors in my individual success was a result of working with others to achieve group goals. I love learning from my peers as much as from my own experience, and these connections will pay dividends later. Collaborations can be just as fruitful as individual labors, if not more. In mathematics, we are often encouraged to lock ourselves alone in the ivory tower in pursuit of the next unsolved theorem, but many other disciplines are begging for us to reach out and contribute our skill set, and communicate across disciplinary boundaries.

Favorite website or app:
Educreate is becoming a favorite app for screencasting problem solutions.

Twitter: @mathprofcarrie
Website: Unity College profile

STEMinist Profile: Stephanie Stockman, Education & Public Outreach Lead, NASA

Stephanie Stockman

Stephanie Stockman

Education and Public Outreach Lead
NASA Science Mission Directorate
(NASA HQ)



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
From the time I was a small child I loved rocks. I have my first exposure to geology as a 4th grader and knew that I wanted to be a geologist. I changed my major in college from Mass Communication to Geology in my junior year of college. It was during the time that plate tectonics was coming to the forefront of geologic research. I loved the idea of “smash-bang crash-em up continents.”

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I worked in the Lab for Terrestrial Physics at Goddard Space Flight Center. One of our geophysicists had a project on Kodiak Island and other parts of Alaska. She was using high precision GPS to look at strain across fault zones. For the Kodiak part of the campaign she partnered with the local high school. She asked me to add an education component to the field campaign. In the meantime, she became pregnant and had to go on bed rest. I went up to Kodiak and ran the second week of the field campaign with the students. The following year I went back and recruited other schools in Glen Allen, Kenny Lake and Valdez and participated in those trainings and campaigns as well.

Role models/heroes:
Lorie Molitor, my undergraduate advisor at Towson State University. I shied away from science because I was math-phobic and she convinced me that I could do the math—and she was right.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love learning new things, I am fascinated by the discoveries we make at NASA via our robotic flight programs. One of my first jobs at Goddard was mapping Viking imagery of Mars. My “field area” was near the large Martian out-flow channels. At that time, most planetary scientists did not think liquid water could have flowed on Mars. It was a great time to observe and participate in the scientific debate.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t be afraid to follow your interests and passion…to a career that you truly enjoy. Seek out mentors who can help guide you in your career. Pass it on, and look for opportunities to mentor others.

Favorite website or app:
Titus Canyon (I love flickr and taking pictures of rocks) and nasascience.nasa.gov

Twitter: @geosteph

STEMinist Profile: Catherine Pratt, Grad Student, Biochemistry/Developmental Biology

Catherine Pratt

Catherine Pratt

Graduate Student
Brown University



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
When I was in high school I would bug my Mum all the time to let me come to work with her. As a veterinary surgeon she got to do some pretty cool things, and I loved watching her and the other vets do their job. I remember being very proud of myself for making it through a rather nasty orthopedic operation on a dog. The vet school student, on the other hand, fainted rather dramatically.

So a career in veterinary medicine seemed to be the direction I was headed in…until I visited my Aunt’s biochemistry lab. There was something about the smell of the lab, the ticking of the geiger counter, the humming of the fume hood. I was only 16 at the time, so there was very little I could actually do, but I had fallen in love. I applied to college to study biochemistry, spent every summer in some lab or other, and after spending the year after graduation as a lab technician, applied and was accepted to the graduate program in Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry at Brown University.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I should be honest here and explain the jadedness that can hit a grad student who has been working on the same project for 5 or 6 years. Things that seemed cool at the outset often morph into the stuff of nightmares. Hypotheses become twisted, experiments that worked last week fail this week, and your confidence takes beating after merciless beating. But I digress. When I began the project that I am currently writing up for publication, it was the coolest thing ever! I have been very lucky to have a P.I. who lets me do what I want to do, as long as she thinks it’s a reasonable idea.

So when I came to her with a list of predicted miRNA binding sites for the mRNA that we study, she let me take that project on and test whether these regulatory molecules were indeed causing the biological effects we see in our system. As the project grew there were these little blips of pure joy as our hypothesis was proved positive. These blips, at least for me, are too scarce, and in my memory the last couple of years have been extremely challenging. In that time, though, I discovered my passion for science communication and started my blog. In it’s own way, that website has been the coolest project I have ever worked on!

Role models/heroes:
My most influential role models over the last decade have been my Aunt and my advisor. In different ways they have each shown me how to be a great scientist and a great woman, and that those two things do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Why do you love working in STEM?
As someone who is leaving academia to focus on STEM communication, I often find myself contemplating what I will miss. I keep coming back to the conversations and the camaraderie. A lab is more than just a place where people in white coats churn out data for publication; it’s a family. We are all working towards a common goal, but as we chase that goal we need the odd pep talk, or to see the latest YouTube clip that went viral, or a beer at the end of the week. It’s that community of smart, fun, like-minded people that I will miss being around every day.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Do it. Don’t be intimidated. Ask questions. Make sure you have a support network, whether it be friends, family, colleagues, or all of the above. And don’t be afraid to ask for help (both in and out of the lab).

Favorite website or app:
Twitter. By a MILE!!! It’s a great place to meet other scientists, get help with experiments, and keep abreast of what’s going in other fields of research.

Twitter: @Katie_PhD
Website: www.katiephd.com

STEMinist Profile: Shannon Jaeger, Masters Student in Computer Science

Shannon Jaeger

Masters Student in Computer Science
University of Calgary

Founder, Jaeger eMedia Inc.



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
STEM was a calling to me. I have always been curious about why things are the way they are in the world around me. Enjoyed learning about science in school, however, I felt very alone in this desire. I come from a small town where I may have been the only girl in my grade that enjoyed math. Fortunately I had a female science teacher in grade 8, and a female physics teacher in high school. I’d have thought I was really odd if it was not for having a female science teacher, and I’m not sure that I’d have pursued a STEM career.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Coolest project is probably the first major project. Perhaps because it was the first, perhaps because it was such a great success. I was one of five developers who worked on the Gemini Telescopes Data Handling System, which might still be running at the observatories. The system consisted of 7 client/server processes written in C/C++ with Tcl/Tk user interfaces. It was cool because the software worked well and we delivered it on time and on budget and it is an important part of the observatories’ software system.

Role models and heroes:
Obviously my grade 8 teacher Mrs. Sallows, my physics teacher Ms. Karbeshewski. Later in University: Lady Lovelace. One of my early instructors called me Miss Lovelace; he meant it in a derogatory way but I took it as a compliment.

Why do you love working in STEM?
As stated before, STEM is a calling to me. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love problem solving and unraveling mysteries. STEM careers have plenty of problems and mysteries.

Advice for future STEMinists?
This is not my quote and I do not know the author, however it is what I’d like to pass onto others: “Obstacles can’t stop you. Problems can’t stop you. Most of all, other people can’t stop you. Only you can stop you.”

Favorite website or app:
There are far too many too choose from that I enjoy. However, I am going to pick ted.com. I think the Ted Talks are a rather clever way of sharing ideas to the world.

Twitter: @shannon_jaeger
Website: www.jaeger-emedia.com

STEMinist Profile: Cindy Mahler, Aerospace Engineer at The Boeing Company

Cindy Mahler

Cindy Mahler

Aerospace Engineer at The Boeing Company



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
The Challenger Accident. I was in fifth grade when the Challenger Accident occurred and was just learning about the space program and had joined my school’s Young Astronaut’s Program. The day of the Challenger launch I was home sick from school (and bummed I was missing watching the launch live at school since it was too common of a thing to air on national television). I vowed that day I would go up and finish their mission for them and I’ve never looked back.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
My first project out of college was to integrate the U.S. and Russian Astronaut training programs for the International Space Station’s Motion Control System. It was an incredible opportunity. I got to learn everything about the U.S. and Russian systems and work with a team to determine how to best teach the information to future space station crew members. From then on we taught the Motion Control System as an integrated system and not a U.S. or Russian only system. The project became a model that other Station Systems used to integrate their training programs.

Role models and heroes:
Captain Kirk

Advice for future STEMinists?
Follow your passion and dream big. Anything is possible.

Favorite website or app:
Angry Birds Space

Twitter: @txflygirl
Site: www.txflygirl.wordpress.com